Issues with Super-heroine Costumes

I’ve just watched Captain America: Winter Soldier, and as much as I love Black Widow, I can’t get over her hair.

As an active agent who is constantly fighting, Natasha should be dressing as such. She should be prepared for a fight, especially when she knows that she’ll be going on missions, but she never is. Regardless what hairstyle she’s been given over the three movies (and it does annoy me that she’s the only avenger who gets a makeover with every new movie), none of them are practical for combat.

This is something which can be applied to any of the female super-heroines: none of them would be ready for a real fight. As a black belt, I know what kind of things should be worn for fighting, so let’s go through some of the main aspects of super-heroine costumes:

Hair:

When fighting, it’s important that your field of vision isn’t restricted, and this is something really noticeable when Black Widow fights, because she incorporates a lot of turns. So every time she turns her head, her hair completely covers her face. This is great for dramatic shots, but ridiculous for a fight.

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A similar thing happens in the film Daredevil, Elektra keeps her hair tied up for training, but as soon as she goes out to fight, she lets it down. If you know that you train better with hair up, surely it makes sense that it should be tied up for real missions. Or are we just trying to look pretty for the bad guys?

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The best example I can find of how they should be wearing their hair is SHIELD agent Maria Hill, both her cropped hair in the comics, and low bun in the films are perfectly suited to combat. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see her in combat often.

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Material:

Characters like Captain America and Batman have costumes which are clearly adapted from various styles of armor and the material is designed to be combat ready and virtually bulletproof. And then you have costumes that are basically nothing more than spandex. Now with characters like Superman, this isn’t as big as a problem because he doesn’t need armor. But with characters like Batgirl or Catwoman, they appear to have chosen looking sexy over being able to fight.

And then there’s Powergirl. Who has a gaping hole is the chest of her suit because she can’t find anything to symbolize her or some other bullshit that they used to justify the continuous cleavage shots.

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Chest Plates :

There are some attempts to give the female characters armor, like with Lady Sif, but a lot of the time theres a lot of problems with the designs. Here’s a link to an article which explains how the ‘boob plate’ armor would actually kill the wearer.

Heels:

I don’t understand why every super heroine needs to fight in high heeled shoes. It’s ridiculously impractical. I mean, I can do a lot of karate moves in heels (how I found that out is a whole different story…) but it is a lot more difficult, and there’s a serious risk that the heroines could break their ankles. I get that some of the heroines like Wonder Woman aren’t constrained by the limitations of humans, but it would still be a lot easier for them to fight in flats like the boys.

Interestingly, this isn’t just restricted to super-heroines, it’s something I see a lot in police and detective shows as well. Which is odd because you’d think if your job requires running you would just wear trainers all of the time.

Capes:

I don’t think I have to go into this one. I think Edna has it covered…
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I do love the new designs for Wonder Woman which seems to have chosen practicality over pure sexualisation. Now all she needs is to tie her hair back properly and ditch the perfect nails and she’ll be perfect.

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Let me know what you think about these costumes? Does anyone else think they’re way too impractical? Are there any points that I’ve missed?

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8 thoughts on “Issues with Super-heroine Costumes

  1. zampano

    Of course the costumes are completely ridiculous, and they are for a good reason. Sex sells. Possibly the only heroine who has a practical outfit is Hermione from Harry Potter. Her hairstyles are more like Black Widow although she did have it up a few times. Her clothing is also much more practical than almost every heroine, excluding of course the required school robes.

    In an episode of Castle, he makes a reference to Beckett’s heels and asks how she can run in them. She does not answer his question but she appears to understand his point. Heroines and super-heroines show excess amounts of skin, wear spandex, and let their hair down because men love looking at women; especially cleavage, formfitting outfits, and anything revealing or “hot”. In the majority of households men are still the breadwinners and therefore have more of a say in how household funds are spent.

    I would love to see a heroine or super-heroine with an outfit / hairstyle / etc. as practical and useful as Batman’s; although, being male I would probably be judged harshly for this.

    Reply
    1. kellisina Post author

      It’s odd that the heroines are designed solely to appeal to men when men only account for half of their audience.
      Hermoine is a better dressed character because the series is largely aimed at children. And a lot of heroines aimed for a younger audience are a lot better dressed. Like in the Pixar film The Incredibles, the girls may have costumes made out of spandex, but it’s exactly the same stuff that the boys are wearing, and adapted to suit their own powers.
      As soon as the audience grows up, the female characters are turned into sex objects and the female half of the audience is ignored.
      I don’t agree that in the majority of households men are the breadwinners, and your own interests certainly don’t reflect the ideologies of the breadwinner of the house, so I don’t think that has much bearing.
      I personally don’t think you’d be judged for using common sense, so don’t be afraid to voice your opinion 🙂

      Reply
      1. zampano

        I agree completely regarding The Incredibles, it was nice to see that the costumes were the same between the sexes, not only for the youth but the adults too.

        After giving it some thought, I wonder if things being aimed mostly at men is an unfortunate remnant of pre 1800’s way of life that just has not quite changed yet.

        As for breadwinners, I probably should have done my research before opening my mouth and looking unintelligent haha. I knew the dynamic was shifting but had not realized it had shifted so far. I learned something important today. 🙂

  2. Stephanie Gallon

    Things are aimed at men because we live in a patriarchy, and that is particularly evident in comics. Comics aren’t unique in its gatekeeper culture, but they are unique in that its built exclusively on a male power fantasy.

    My favourite example of this is Starfire. The way her near constant state of nudity is justified in the New 52 series by fans is that her powers stem from the sun. And yet Superman also depends on the sun for his powers. He gets to remain fully clothed, his body not bent in to ridiculous poses just to show ass and abs.

    Sex isn’t selling. Misogyny is. That is the inherent problem with these costumes and the way characters are portrayed. As the blog mentions, Power Girl has an entire driving motivation to find something to fill the hole where her cleavage is. She is searching for identity. And she is never going to achieve that as long as the male gaze dictates how characters look and act. It was a poor attempt to give her motivation, but it is actually really symbolic of the comic industry.

    Reply
  3. L. Palmer

    Hair needs to be used as a weapon if it’s down, like Xena did.
    As for outfits, there does need to be a growing change. Black Widow’s outfits in the Marvel Movies is at least better than most super heroine’s outfits. She is fully clothed, despite it being shapely.

    Reply
    1. kellisina Post author

      The trouble is using hair as a weapon is that it tends to hurt you more than the person your fighting. When I wear me hair in a high ponytail, turning my head quickly means I get whipped in the face. Not a very pleasant experience :’)
      I do agree that Black Widow’s outfits is one of the best. If only they’d stop with the provocative showing off of her figure it would be great.

      Reply
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